Polarization of microbial communities between competitive and cooperative metabolism.
Resource competition and metabolic cross-feeding are among the main drivers of microbial community assembly. Yet the degree to which these two conflicting forces are reflected in the composition of natural communities has not been systematically investigated. Here, we use genome-scale metabolic modelling to assess the potential for resource competition and metabolic cooperation in large co-occurring groups (up to 40 members) across thousands of habitats. Our analysis reveals two distinct community types, which are clustered at opposite ends of a spectrum in a trade-off between competition and cooperation. At one end are highly cooperative communities, characterized by smaller genomes and multiple auxotrophies. At the other end are highly competitive communities, which feature larger genomes and overlapping nutritional requirements, and harbour more genes related to antimicrobial activity. The latter are mainly present in soils, whereas the former are found in both free-living and host-associated habitats. Community-scale flux simulations show that, whereas competitive communities can better resist species invasion but not nutrient shift, cooperative communities are susceptible to species invasion but resilient to nutrient change. We also show, by analysing an additional data set, that colonization by probiotic species is positively associated with the presence of cooperative species in the recipient microbiome. Together, our results highlight the bifurcation between competitive and cooperative metabolism in the assembly of natural communities and its implications for community modulation.